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True Respite in an Uncertain Time

October 25th, 2021

For two months after our daughter came home my phone’s navigational app registered “home” as being the hospital even as I sat on the couch in my living room. Eight months after she was discharged, we returned to that “home,” the Ronald McDonald Family Room at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison to celebrate Maretta’s first birthday by providing a “Nacho Ordinary Friday” nacho bar lunch for families.

It still feels like home each time we return and is strange to walk through those double doors and remember how it felt the first time my husband wheeled me through them. Still reeling from the surprise and trauma of the previous 72 hours, I was living a nightmare. I remember thinking, “I don’t think I can do this.”

I was overwhelmed by the prospect of having to move my stuff in and out of the room every day and the distance between the Ronald McDonald Family Room and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) felt longer than it was. But as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, a new normal set in. Doing countless loads of laundry (provided for free!), packing it into my rolling overnight bag, stuffing it in the lockers every morning… it became therapeutic. Something steady and reliable on an adventure of uncertainty and constant changes as we watched our 1 lb. 6.9 ounce, 24-weeker ride the NICU roller-coaster.

It wasn’t long before the staff and volunteers of the Ronald McDonald Family Room became family. We used everything the Ronald McDonald Family Room had to offer. We named the fish and used the library and quiet room for napping during the day. We spent a lot of time chatting with, crying with, and encouraging other families with kiddos in the hospital. I stayed in the hospital for 120 nights; 112 of those nights were spent in the comfort and privacy of “a sleep room” in the Ronald McDonald Family Room. In that room I cried, showered (and cried in the shower), pumped countless ounces of milk, rode out the first waves of NICU PTSD, wrote “fan club” updates, brainstormed ways we would give back to the NICU and Ronald McDonald Family Room in the future, painted several canvas paintings to give as gifts to our nurses, wrote thank you notes, folded laundry, and slept soundly, most nights, from the moment I closed my eyes.

It was a true respite. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of it all now.

Our daughter’s developmental pediatrician credits our presence at the hospital every day of the four months she was there with how well she is doing now despite the extensive brain injury she sustained in the first few days of her life. It was the Ronald McDonald Family Room that made that possible.

Our hearts are full. We are grateful. The Ronald McDonald Family Room was an unexpected blessing in our lives. A hidden gem of hospitality when we needed it most.

Written by: Meg, Maretta’s mom


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